Although the front sign still says Allisonville Nursery, the IGC outside of Indianapolis started rolling out a new name last year. Owner and founder Jeff Gatewood jokes that the transition is like another famous name change that came from Indiana: the musician known as Johnny Cougar, and then John Cougar Mellencamp, before he became John Mellencamp.
“We’re going from Allisonville Nursery to Allisonville Nursery, Garden & Home, and then eventually we’ll be Allisonville Garden & Home,” Gatewood says. “Most people driving by see our name and think we’re just a nursery; they don’t realize we’re selling all of this wonderful home-related product.”
Home product categories have been growing at Allisonville over the years. This gradual rebranding will help loyal customers and long-time employees adjust to the change, while drawing in new (often younger) shoppers.
“We have been around for 40 years, so everyone knows us as Allisonville Nursery,” explains marketing director Scott Bardash. “This transition phase still keeps our roots, but introduces that we’re more than just the trees you see when you drive by.”
As part of the rebranding process, Allisonville began working with a consulting firm last year. The consultants asked Gatewood about the company’s values — prompting him to sit down and define Allisonville’s brand. Part of it reads:
Promising a facility that is always clean and inspiring, a staff dedicated to the overall customer experience, and a passion for what we do is our brand commitment. Everything we do and everything a guest sees, hears, smells, and feels is our brand.
“Having this in writing [helps] employees understand our brand and what we want our guests to experience when they interact with us,” Bardash says. “[It helps us] make sure everybody’s on the same page and that [employees] understand the big picture – that they’re not just interacting with the guest while they’re looking at a tree; it’s part of the overall experience.”
Attracting younger customers
By offering fun events that epitomize that experience, Allisonville successfully draws in younger customers. The main goal of these events isn’t about sales volume, Bardash says — though people often come back as return customers after visiting the nursery to enjoy a beer and listen to some music without anyone trying to sell them anything.
“We just want to get them in and let them see what we have to offer,” he says. “When we have these events, we always hear younger people say, ‘My parents shop here all the time, but I didn’t realize you did this!’”
These events include the Blues, Brews and BBQ event previously featured on Garden Center magazine’s podcast, and another called Evening in the Gardens, which features live music, beer and wine, and food trucks. Even though consumers pay for their own food and drinks, Bardash says, “They still love coming in and being in the environment.”
Allisonville also offers monthly indoor gardening classes. The most popular project by far is succulent terrariums, followed by fairy gardens. Attendees pay a $20 class fee in addition to buying their own materials. These events have been very successful, Bardash says, and with a limit of about a dozen attendees each month, “they fill up constantly.”
To inspire and entertain
The brand commitment guides Allisonville’s merchandising decisions, as well. It’s not just about offering popular new product categories, but displaying them with the goal of inspiring customers.
Inspiration means “creating displays that give customers ideas of how to use products in their home,” Gatewood says. “It’s about showing everything in its best light, and putting A, B and C together to create a look that somebody can replicate in their house.”
For example, one of Allisonville’s strongest home product categories is “entertainment,” which includes everything from table linens and napkins to candles, serving dishes and stationary. Bardash compares it to an upscale party store, and says the gorgeous patterns and attractive price points stop customers in their tracks as they walk through the home store toward the cash register after picking out flowers.
Gatewood is also excited about Allisonville becoming an exclusive dealer for products like the Big Green Egg and Yeti coolers. However, he was intentional about putting “garden” before “home” in Allisonville’s new name to emphasize the company’s focus, which remains a steady constant among all these changes.
Rewarding loyal shoppers
Since introducing a new customer loyalty program this past spring, Allisonville is already seeing results. More than 10,000 customers have already used the program.
“We did a lot of research on what other garden centers were doing, and settled on one point earned per dollar spent,” Bardash says. Once 300 points are accumulated, they can be redeemed for $10 cash value.
Allisonville launched the rewards program at their store’s spring open house, offering a week of double points to kick it off. “The excitement around that was more than we expected,” Bardash says.
As excited as customers are about Allisonville Rewards, Bardash emphasizes that it requires lots of support from the retail staff.
“It takes a significant amount of staff buy-in because it works best when they use it as a selling tool — whether that means telling someone, ‘You’re close to earning a reward, so you may want to go ahead and pick up that extra flower,’ or reminding them to come back later to redeem points,” he says.
Though the store offers Allisonville Rewards cards for people who want them, most customers opt to just give their names instead of carrying an extra card. That has already given Allisonville better insights about its shoppers.
“We are now getting a name with nearly every order, and that significantly helps us track new versus returning customers and their purchase behavior,” Bardash says. “We can target emails based on purchase history to make sure we’re talking to the right people. It’s been pretty successful, from what we can track.”